CRA Update – S Thomas Drive One Year Until Done

Now that we’ve dispelled the rumor of the CRA being a bust, it’s time for an update on what’s happening out there. There has been a ton of activity with the construction of this project, although much of it may not be noticeable on the surface.

Much of the work up until this point has been underground.   Things like the repaving of streets, installing sidewalks and streetlamps and putting in landscaping only takes a few months – and incidentally, that’s what people notice the most, and it’s also what happens at the end of the project.  So, it’s easy to assume nothing’s really been going on with it for a long stretch of time, when the reality is that tons of stuff has been going on, just out of our view. Continue reading “CRA Update – S Thomas Drive One Year Until Done”

The CRA is NOT a Bust [REPORT]

Every since The News Herald ran an article stating that the CRA progress will slow due to the economic downturn, we’ve been fielding a seemingly endless stream of questions.  Concerned residents, condo owners and vacationers are worried that the existing CRA construction would halt, leaving gaping holes in road-work progress and landmark eyesores all over east Panama City Beach.  This article should offer some clarification along with a warm cup of good news.

Continue reading “The CRA is NOT a Bust [REPORT]”

FBR CRA – Underground Utilities Almost Done, Scenic Ponds Getting Close

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about the CRA, and frankly, it’s not looked like a lot of progress has been made – on the surface.  But, most of the work that has happened to date, has been mostly out of sight.  “During initial phases of construction, most of the work involves underground utilities, we dig stuff up, bury it back, dig up more stuff, and bury it again,” said Mario Gisbert, the Panama City Beach Assistant City Manager.

Continue reading “FBR CRA – Underground Utilities Almost Done, Scenic Ponds Getting Close”

CRA – South Thomas Drive Construction Update, Widening Road

When it comes to getting right down to business, the Front Beach Road CRA (short for community redevelopment area) in Panama City Beach is cranking out the first steps in making South Thomas Drive awesome.  The South Thomas Drive road, well known as a crater-ific, pitted nightmare of a road, is getting a huge shot in the arm by way of completely NEW road, widened travel path, sidewalks, beautiful landscaping and sweet street lamps.  Oh, and I forgot to mention all those ugly utility lines will be moved under ground; that’s huge!

Continue reading “CRA – South Thomas Drive Construction Update, Widening Road”

57 Reasons the New South Thomas Drive will Rock

The Front Beach Road CRA in Panama City Beach is set to change the face of the beach and reset the perception of all those that visit our beautiful area. Right now, driving up and down our main travel corridors is non-to-pleasing to the eye, what with the towering out of the ground utilities and lack of proper sidewalks and landscaping. BUT, that’s all in the process of change. Change is good, right?

Yesterday evening a community workshop was held at the CRA office to show off what’s in store for the next phase of the CRA (community redevelopment area), including South Thomas Drive, a section of Front Beach Road and the intersection of Front Beach Road, Middle Beach Road and North Thomas Drive.

Tip: You can learn more about the CRA, or you can read below for more details on this portion.

I’m going to warn you, what you are about to read will be long, but super rich with multimedia. Hopefully you’ll have a great idea as to what this portion of the cra will actually involve.

This roadways covered in this portion of the CRA form a loop, if you will around Laketown Wharf and a portion of the Signal Hill Golf course. The road runs right by Boardwalk Beach Resort, then passes by Pineapple Willies, through condo canyon (Laketown Wharf/Shores of Panama), goes right carrying you right past Wal-Mart and through the intersection just a little where Walgreen’s, Ripley’s and Backyard Burger rest. Included also is a little bit of the roadway called North Thomas Drive that would lead you down to the camp ground across from Club La Vela.

Here are the 57 Reasons the New South Thomas Drive will Rock

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Front Beach, Middle Beach, North Thomas Drive Intersection

  • This is the intersection described above that plays home to Ripley’s Believe it or Not!
  • They will completely redo the whole intersection, traffic lights and all
  • The new intersection will have an emphasis on pedestrian friendliness
    • Currently it is difficult for peds to cross because of the wide road ways
    • They will redo some of the existing pedestrian islands
    • Also, an additional pedestrian island will be added by Backyard Burger
    • Existing ped islands will be beautified
  • The famous dedicated right turn lane from west-bound Front Beach Road that turns onto Middle Beach will be done away with, median curb and all
    • But, that lane will still be a turn only lane, just not dedicated
    • Actually, they will ad an additional right turn lane making the total number of right turn lanes from Front Beach to Middle Beach TWO
  • Right smack dab in the middle of the intersection will be a huge decorative paver insignia of the Panama City Beach logo surely marketing the busiest intersection on Panama City Beach. Could Wal-mart have anything to do with that? hmmm
  • The right turn from North Thomas Drive onto Front Beach Road (by the Ripley’s museum) will be pulled back to make it a larger radius. You may have noticed their new sign and how it has recently moved back. They were getting it out of the way!
  • Pedestrian walkways will be very clearly marked
  • My favorite: all those ugly utility lines (power, phone and the like) will be moved UNDERGROUND!
  • Sidewalks will be installed
  • Cool street lamps will be installed
  • Lovely landscaping that will hopefully be taken good care of.

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The Circle K Intersection of Front Beach Road

  • This area covers the “curve” by Laketown Wharf and the entrance of Shores of Panama.
  • This area is well known for its traffic during peak seasons
  • Many in attendance were not happy with the plans as they did not seem to address the current problems
    • I talked with the owner of Pineapple Willies who was telling me that teh traffic problems there greatly effect his business every year
    • Many property owners there expressed their concern that during peak seasons it was very difficult for them to come and go from their residences
    • Some of the suggestions included widening the turn so that there would be two dedicated turn lanes because all of the traffic is broken up to turn right or left at the Circle K
  • The plans include a dedicated Tram lane for the multi-model transportation device
    • Many suggested to do away with this all together, but this route of the Tram service is integral in the Tram “looping” back to return to the west end of Panama City Beach
    • The goal of the Tram is to get people to park their cars and ride mass transportation systems, this could work great, if done correctly.
    • I think cars would be able to travel in this Tram lane, so they could use the Tram lane to turn right, right?
  • Of course, all utilities will be moved underground
  • Sidewalks will be installed
  • Landscaping will be installed
  • There will be clearly marked crossing areas with pedestrian medians
  • There will be periodic cut-outs for the Tram loading and unloading stops

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South Thomas Drive, North Thomas Drive Intersection

  • Located right by Alvin’s Island
  • They actually (they, as in The City of Panama City Beach) bought a huge chunk of land between Alvin’s Island and Signal Hill Golf Course
  • This land will be used to build a retention pond and a cut through roadway
  • The retention pond will be designed to be a beautiful amenity
    • Sidewalks all around with sitting areas
    • Landscaped and lighted
    • It looks as thought there may be a little roadside parking for those that may want to enjoy
  • The roadway cut through will be charged with the goal of easing traffic into North Thomas Drive
    • Intersection will be “signalized”
    • Right now, the turn just sort of “juts” out, giving more bias to turning right then left, and is actually quite dangerous if you’re not paying attention.
    • The new intersection will have pedestrian walkways clearly marked
    • There will be a little right off-shoot to cover access still to boardwalk and thee other “local” businesses.
    • This will alleviate some of the traffic pressure during peak seasons and times of high traffic *cough* little wayner
  • Alvin’s Island will actually be a little “island”

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Huge Retention Pond in Place of Old Homeless Camp

  • This retention pond will actually be behind McDonalds in front of the Wal-Mart parking lot (bet you were always wondering what was behind all those shrubs at the end of the Wal-Mart parking lot, weren’t you?)
  • Right now there is a fence along the McDonald’s parking lot
    • I was told that this lot was the former site of a homeless camp, even though it is right in the middle of the action, it was actually well secluded. That is before the city came in and ruined the fun and cleared it all out.
    • I was also told that McD’s is anxious for this as when it is build, they will tear down their fence and open it up for their customers to use
  • This retention pond will be quite large and will feature landscaping and sidewalks all around
  • A “viewing” platform will be built with seating areas so that people can enjoy the view of the retention pond
  • Lighting, landscaping and sidewalks all around (did I say that already?)
  • The public will have access to the amenity from both Middle Beach and Front Beach Roads

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Below are some high-resolution renderings of the different aspects of the project.

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CRA Kick-off Party for South Thomas Drive Construction

Charged with literally changing the face of Panama City Beach, the CRA is on the move again.  The next project on the table is the reconstruction of the South Thomas Drive corridor and tonight is the kick-off party for the public to come in and see what’s going to take place over the next 2 years or so.

The CRA, or community redevelopment area has swept through the area over the last few years completely changing the Churchwell Drive and R Jackson Blvd (formerly Beckrich) corridors with not only entirely new roads, but new infrastructures.  These projects included moving utilities underground and adding beautification accents such as sidewalks, landscaping and street lights – something our area has been badly in need of for years.

Churchwell Drive is the road that travels in between Middle Beach and Front Beach Road that plays home to the Beach post office.  Included in the project was a new bridge that required most of the budget and time, but the result was a beautiful 4 lane road with a center turn lane, sidewalks and these cool street lamps that make you want to walk everywhere just so you can look at them.

R Jackson Blvd, formerly known as Beckrich Road underwent an entire transformation expanding it from a two lane, heavily traversed, dangerous main corridor to a lovely, wide, beautiful road that enjoys pedestrians all the time.  If you haven’t driven down it lately, you should.  I experience that euphoria as often as possible, and sometimes even pull over just to walk it.

I remember the ground-breaking like it was yesterday, thinking to myself, “2 year? Man, that’s a long time for a road to be under construction.”  But man, did the time fly.  Fully opened in April of this year, it has serviced the area well and opened up a quick way to get from Back Beach to Front Beach Road.

Take a look at the progress over the last couple years:

———————————————————So, what’s happening tonight?  There will be a public event that will explain to the public just what will be happening over the next 18 to 24 months in the South Thomas Drive area.  The South Thomas Drive corridor is the area that is in between the Circle K (by Shores of Panama and Laketown Wharf) and Club La Vela.  If you’ve traveled down that road, you know that it is a poor excuse for a patch of pavement, much less an actual road and is badly in need of a complete overhaul.

The new South Thomas Drive will include (I beleive) four lanes with a center turn lane, sidewalks, landscaping, those cool street lamps and all the utilities moved underground.  This will be huge not only for the area but also for Panama City Beach as this is a heavily traveled area.  The unfortunate part is having to endure the construction along the way; but there’s nothing we can do about that and it will be very much worth the trouble.

You can bet you can count on us to keep you all abreast of every new little detail that emerges with this in addition to construction update photos and the like.  Stay tuned for an update about how tonight went.

By the way, the event is at the CRA office from 5 to 7 pm.  The CRA office is located in the old St. Joe building next to the Nextel call center on R Jackson BLVD.  Click here for a map.

The Face Lift PCB's Been Waiting For: Form-Based Regulations

formbased

Last Thursday, June 4th, the City of Panama City Beach held a joint City Council and Planning Board workshop to discuss potential form-based design regulations that will dramatically affect future Panama City Beach developments. These form-based regulations, negotiated in part by Planning Works, 180 Degree Design and White and Smith Planning, are recommendations intended to provide standards that will create consistency and form between high-rise edifices and the neighborhoods that surround them.

A team of urban planning specialists, headed by Michael Lauer, urban planner Planning Works, helped explain in the 3-day workshop how adopting these new regulations will encourage higher quality future development while maintaining the small town beach lifestyle with an overall more attractive and walkable streetscape for Front Beach Road. These new regulations will also harmonize with future and current CRA developments such as the revamped Richard Jackson Boulevard.

These comprehensive regulations actually broke down into simple decisions for the board to discuss and eventually adopt:

  • Building Height Requirements
    • Based on zoning buildings in residential /low intensity areas will max out at 35ft with a better overall definition of that requirement. Traditional areas will max out at 50ft with an allowance for greater height based on developments to that area. High Rise areas will see a flexible cap of 220ft, with an allowance for more height (with a decrease in footprint) to help promote variety.
  • Moving Buildings Closer to the Street
  • Eliminate Auto Oriented Design
    • Lots of talk on this topic, but essentially parking lots will no longer be allowed on the street side. They will be required to park behind buildings or incorporated into the design of the building in the form of covered parking.
  • Internal Street Standard
  • Require Retail to Be Along the Street-Side

The goal of all this, as said by Michael Lauer, is to “keep the street fronts alive” by promoting more active fronts based on the design codes. An example of “active fronts” would be to see more cafés, pocket parks and urban amenities on the street side rather than parking lots or deep set backs.

On top of the physical incentives, the hopes of the city and the planning organizations are to provide incentive for developers as well with hardship variances and additional administrative variances. Current buildings that can’t or won’t participate in the developments can, under these regulations, do relatively simple façade or cosmetic changes to help coincide with the improvements. But not everything will be an easy fix. City Attorney, Doug Sale, when asked a question about buildings that will lose their parking lots due to these potential regulations, acknowledged the difficulty in transition by answering, “The preferred approach would be shared access to parking in back. But we’ll have to deal with it case by case.”

Still, within the group of attendees, the form-based design regulations were met with rave reviews, even subtle complaints that the city should have done this a decade ago. Even Mayor Gayle Oberst endorsed the sentiment by adding that when past opportunities to move in the direction of such regulations surfaced the council “punted,” Oberst added that these talks have been the “the kick in the pants” the city needed. “I think it’s the future of Panama City Beach,” Oberst said. “It’s not going to be easy, but we can do it. I’m excited about it and [when it’s completed] we’ll all be proud of it.”

So what should Panama City Beach residents expect? Nothing, yet, as these talks will continue to be negotiated until September. But when the time comes, Panama City Beach will have a new look. You’ll see more bike lanes, walkways, outdoor cafés, tropical landscaping, more accessible frontages and better roadways for driving. These regulations, the planners said, should also help attract new investments by increasing square footage available for office, retail or rental units in turn raising economic return on private capital.

The planning groups will begin drafting these new form-based rules, but, for now, all potential developers and those who intend on putting additional monies into renovating old properties will have to consider the likelihood that these regulations will be adopted…and that likelihood is higher than any high-rise on Panama City Beach.

Beckrich Road Opens New Lane

Working under the ever watchful eye of the warm sun, workers barely break a sweat in the mild 59 degree weather.  Clear blue skies with a light breeze make for perfect working conditions.

Recently new light posts have been installed along new sidewalks on Beckrich Road as part of the Community Redevelopment Area in Panama City Beach, also known as the CRA..  The posts are stylish and resemble something like what you would find in Stars Hollow, the sidewalks are concrete and whitish-grey in color and will one day very soon be walked on by the size 11 shoe of both tourists and locals alike.

Straining under the weight of the immense weight of the broken bits of road, a Caterpillar tractor lifts itself off the ground as the scoops grow larger and larger.  Heavy equipment has just gnarled the section of Beckrich that comes up to Back Beach Road in preparation for a new layer of hot smooth asphalt.

Sod has gone down, curbing is in place and bugs and other creeping things have a new home in the median vegetation that actually looks quite beautiful and refreshing.  Neat rows of palm trees add to the feel of modern sophistication Panama City Beach has for so long deserved.  No more power or phone lines either.  Sweet.

Workers labor diligently to get the new traffic lights installed at the intersection of Middle Beach  and Beckrich Road.  Panama City Beach Police Department employees have been directing traffic all morning.  “It’s pretty dangerous out here.  We almost get hit every now and then, ” one officer didn’t tell me earlier.

Starting today, northbound traffic on Beckrich used the newly paved lane with the southbound traffic using the same lane as was used last week.  Still only two lanes of traffic traverse the route.  The entrance to Edgewater Shopping Plaza was a mud pit as recently as last week, but now it is silky smooth pavement.

Construction should be totally complete in two months.

New Corner Decoration installed at Beckrich and Back Beach Road

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This past week the newest addition to the intersection of Back Beach and Beckrich Roads was complete.  Part of the beautification and roadway marker efforts are to install these consistent corner decoration assemblies at major intersections on Back Beach Road.

The intersection of Beckrich and Back Beach Road is home to Home Depot, Chick Fil-A, and a million new banks and the future home of Publix, Office Depot and Dunkin Donuts, yay!

012809_beckrich_2Cadi-corner to this an exact replica had been installed since the development of the business park adjoining to the Sprint/Nextel call center.  The facade is beautiful and pleasing to look at.